There Never Were Any Snakes: St. Patrick’s Day and Ireland

So I’m not Irish. Not even a teeny bit.

I’ve never even dated an Irishman, as much as I may have wanted to. I dated a guy from Boston once. Turns out his origins were Eastern European, like mine.

But I have been to Ireland. Multiple times. I’ve even been to Belfast and other areas in Northern Ireland, which, by far, was once of the most intense experiences of my life.

I have also been to Ireland during St. Patrick’s Day. It was, simultaneously, one of the most enjoyable and most chaotic experiences of my early twenties. It was also one of the first things I ever wrote about in this blog (albeit not very well). To this day, it is still the most time I have spent in a police station.

However, after reading this excellent piece on Cracked.com, I thought that if we have ONE day that we’re going to think about a country that I love so much, then I’d like you to consider 3 aspects about Ireland that have absolutely nothing to do with green beer, puking in the streets, or saying that you’re Irish if you’re really not. If you love Ireland like I do, that’s super cool. Why not love it 365-days-a-year? There’s no reason in the world you should select only one day to listen to The Pogues. And trust me- Christy Moore sounds good ANYTIME, not just when you’re feeling like you need to have a connection to some kind of history.

History is important and essential. If it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be going into the field I’m going into. But always consider the kinds of activities that you engage in, as they sometimes effect other people and their cultural sensibilities. I’m not saying you shouldn’t go have a beer or even corned beef and cabbage. But…maybe hold off on the green food coloring. For me, eh?

1) Literature OK, for those of you in the cheap seats, Oscar Wilde was as Irish as it gets. Which I find awesome. I spent multiple days sitting by his statue in Merrion Square park writing in my journal, while 6 and 7-year old Irish kids skateboarded over and around me. Witty, smart and incisive, Wilde represents some of my favorite aspects of Irish culture: a sensibility that varies from dark to light at the drop of a hat, yet never drops the ball on staying smart.

My experience with Irish cultural fare (plays, music, books, film) is that it has always maintained a strong intellectual sensibility. Even comedy, which many people interpret as being a “lower” form is intelligently done within Irish literature. Wilde’s comedy was (of course) beyond compare, but writer Roddy Doyle has also shown himself to be highly capable of providing off-beat and wonderfully rewarding comic writing in pieces like The Van, and the rest of The Barrytown Trilogy. If you haven’t read Doyle, I highly suggest his work. Another rarely read Irish writer that I enjoy on a regular basis is Patrick McCabe. Dark and definitely not for people who can’t handle a bit of harshness, his work, much like Doyle’s reflects a quirky unusual lyricism (even in the violent sections) that I enjoy far more than most American literature. Obviously you have James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. But you also have Brendan Behan and a man who changed the way I saw comic books forever, Garth Ennis. Not that I should have to say this, but yes, comic books are literature. By the way- did you know that Bram Stoker was Irish? No joke. So, when you move forward to that next round of Guinness with the pals, think on drunkenly hopping on to Amazon and grabbing a book to nurse your hangover with. It’ll be worth it.

2) FILM  Yeah, now we’re cooking with fire. Go look at my shelves. Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy (1997) gets played quite regularly in this apartment. C’mon! Sinead O’Connor as the Virgin Mary? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Sure it’s a McCabe adaptation (it’s the film that got me interested in his literature, incidentally), but Neil Jordan’s film making is exquisite. Having won an Academy Award for The Crying Game (1992) he’s also responsible for a good chunk of other films. I even liked his film In Dreams (1999), but I also have a massive, Godzilla-sized crush on Irish actor and Jordan-stand-by Stephen Rea.

Stephen Rea was nominated for an Academy Award for his role in The Crying Game

In addition to Neil Jordan, there’s John Ford, who, while American-born, counts in the Irish-filmmaker set. And if you’re a film fan and you didn’t know Jack had the big Irish-pride going, well…shame on you. No, just kidding. But he did. He was first generation, so it meant a great deal to him and it can certainly be seen in his cinema. So, go out, rent The Quiet Man (1952), fall madly in love with Maureen O’Hara like every other opposable-thumb-having person with reasonable vision, and be done with it.

More recently, we have had some absolutely exquisite Irish cinema. While amazing Irish actors have been a constant through the ages, the film work has been especially great as of late. It is very likely that this  recent growth has been due to the fact that funding for Irish cinema has gotten better thanks to the Irish film board, and, as an archivist-in-training, I know that funding is essential for any kind of success and growth. One of the best films of 2008 was a phenomenal piece that I own and sob and laugh over regularly called In Bruges  by Martin McDonagh. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this film. The acting, the writing, just amazing. I have also heard that 2011’s The Guard blew its audience’s out of the water. I’m pretty devastated that I missed that one. Due to my adoration for, and faith in, Brendan Gleeson’s skill as an actor, I may just buy this one sight unseen!

Colin Farrell & Brendan Gleeson inIn Bruges. This may be one of the most watched films in my whole collection. I have upwards of 700+ films. I last counted a few years ago.

Irish Cinema, much like literature has a flavor that is singular, original and entirely its own. There is no mistaking an Irish film from any other cultural product. Even films that deal in and around “The Troubles” like Long Good Friday (1980)  were British cinematic product, regardless of the fact that John Mackenzie was actually Scottish and had a reasonable history working in politically-aware material. Irish cinema is one of my favorite genres due to the fact that even when it’s light, it’s dark. Waking Ned Devine (Kirk Jones, 1998) is a comedy but…about a death. On the other hand, what can you really expect from a country that has had to endure some truly hellish experiences over its history? I love Irish cinema because while you have the darkness and the historical “never forget” films like In the Name of the Father  (Jim Sheridan, 1993), you can have a pint and sing along with the celebratory ethos of The Commitments (Alan Parker, 1991). In summation, Irish cinema is a genre that takes itself seriously yet celebrates every bit of that to the nth degree. I love that.

3) Community  I loved Ireland because I got to sit on the docks in Galway and listen to the Pet Shop Boys, write in my journal, and see a father and son in a boat in the distance, returning to the mainland, waving at me, a perfect stranger. You know what I got in other countries? Some really weird looks and guys thinking that I would automatically go home with them because I have a few tattoos. All I received in Ireland was pure, unadulterated warmth, from every single person I met, young and old.

Oh, and the honesty! If only we were more like that here! I loved the older man in Kilkenny who looked at me, squinted a little, put down his beer and said “What ya got all that shit in yer face for?” We proceeded to have an extensive conversation about my various piercings, his granddaughter, he bought me a drink, and we laughed. A LOT. He hated the way I looked, but he was so genuine, inviting and nice.

This was what I received from everyone I met. I may have smiled more and enjoyed myself more with Irish people than I did with anyone else in any other country. I traveled alone for three weeks and people talked to me, asked me about myself, my life, bought me drinks, took me places. People took me to their houses! I remember one night in Galway, after hanging out at Sally Long’s (which might be my favorite pub in the world, by the way) the folks I was chatting with simply invited me to their place to hang out for a bit.

But with all of these amazing warm fuzzy moments, I was especially struck by the way that Belfast was constructed. As someone who has been dealing in the visual for the better part of her lifetime, Belfast became burned into my brainscape due to its visual dynamism. If you are unaware of the conflict that has been going on between England and Ireland for an unprecedented amount of time, you are either a) too young to remember the “big” stuff or b) don’t do a lot of time with international matters. In either case, Belfast is best told by pictures and not by words.

Not unlike the infamous one that separated the two portions of Germany for years, there is a wall in Belfast. It's called the Shankill Peace Wall. This is a picture of a youthful me, writing a message for peace.

This is also part of that same place, Shankill Peace Wall. "Before the video game..."

Bobby Sands died after 66 days of hunger striking, at age 27. He is commemorated here. He was a political activist, poet, and was the leader of the 1981 Hunger Strike, where 9 other Irish republican prisoners besides himself died, attempting to fight for Special Category Status (essentially POW-type privileges).

This mural commemorates the Great Hunger which took place between 1845-1852, and most people know as the Irish Potato Famine or something similar. A terrible tragedy, it affected the whole country forever.

I never went to the Louvre, but I saw this.

Then there's the UFF murals. Scary, intimidating, also intense. It was a real distinct change to go from one type of mural to the other.

I suppose it was inevitable that I ended up going into the field I'm going into. Instances like Bombay Street and the visual outgrowths (murals) that were resurrected to commemorate it fascinated my. In August of 1969, Northern Ireland EXPLODED. Bombay Street, part of a residential area in Belfast was burnt to a crisp, and approximately 1800 families were left homeless. This mural commemorates those riots...

What doesn't change, no matter what country you are in, is the children. These little boys followed us around a bit, playing football, curious about what we were even doing there. I think I loved that more than anything. These boys are now young men, maybe married, who knows? That child-like playful innocence so far gone. It's hard to believe that this was 12 years ago.

My time in Ireland and especially Belfast was well-spent, and I would highly advise anyone and everyone to visit or at least investigate the cultural riches that the country offers, whether it is through its history, theater, cinema or literature. As an archivist, I am dying to return to Dublin so that I can go to Trinity College again and ask for a tour of their archives!! I think Trinity College library is where they send all good little librarian type girls when they die and go to heaven. No, really!

Trinity, will you marry me???

In any case, I hope that you all have a lovely St. Patrick’s Day. If you are in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend going to see the band Ollin. You honestly cannot get much better than that. If I didn’t have finals, that would be precisely what I would be doing. If you are not within Los Angeles-area, just take Ireland into consideration as a real country, with a real history and a real culture and not something to be reappropriated as Super Party Day. I like to have a drink or two just as much as anyone else, but hey- isn’t that what New Year’s is for?

*this message brought to you by someone who thinks Guinness tastes better in Ireland than in England*

So hoof and mouth was HUGE when I was living in the UK. So much so that they cancelled the St. Patrick's Day parade (the animals), they refused to bring any tourists to Stonehenge, and when you flew you had to do a MASSIVE foot wiping when you got on/off the plane. Thus...this graffiti. And, if you were curious, the advert above it? It's an advertisement reminding you to making sure to check yourself for testicular cancer. Out of all the photos I have ever taken, this is one of my absolute personal favorites.

When I Think Back On All The Crap I Learned in High School: Ode To Kodachrome, 1935-2010

I started having pictures taken of me as soon as I was born. My godmother was a photographer/art teacher at UCLA, and I spent the very early bits of my life in weird artsy places and dark rooms at UCLA smelling chemicals, as well as her incense and (very likely) pot-smelling apartment in Santa Monica.

She had crazy amounts of cameras. Underwater cameras. Regular cameras. By the time I was 6, going to Samy’s was like going to the park or the grocery store or something. I dunno. It was just something we did. I knew names of film (Fuji, Kodak) and I kept hearing about this strange thing called an ISO…?

She took pictures. And my mother took pictures. There was a shutter flashing every two seconds. *click*  **zzzz** I still happen to think that the sound of a manual camera is one of the sexiest sounds on the planet. Put that and perhaps an Irish or Scottish accent next to my ear, and I might just automatically have no bones in my body and a huge shit-eating grin on my face.

We have fairly decent collections of family albums due to the fact that before digital cameras came in and caused us to simply look at something and delete its existence forever due to someone closing their eyes or a misjudged hand in the “incorrect place” we got them developed. And not only did we get them developed, but we had this strange exhibit called a “slide show.”

I know, I know, some of you may not remember this or know what this is. For those of you who do not know what a slide is, I will give you a picture:

All kidding put aside, these were very important and essential parts of my life. I doubt my parents (or my excruciatingly stoned godmother and her partner my sorta other godparent-ish guy) ever knew how much these little pieces of my very early childhood this meant to me, but all I can say is that I probably would not be a cinephile if I hadn’t had slide shows all the time as a kid. I remember laughter, my mom having a drink and the ice clinking, and the crack in the wall (our house was built in 1919, or something ridiculous like that), and great photos. Whether they were artsy photos, family shots, or a mix of the two, we had a good time.

The main thing was that it was not unlike 16mm film. The 16mm format, introduced in 1923, was utilized as a way to create “real” movies but at home. It may not have been 35mm, but hey- it was still film, right? And you could project ’em yourself, too? Not only that, it created a sense of community and brought the family together in a way that other things could not. It was one way that, historically, media absolutely built bridges instead of tearing them down. The process of creating a film together, and then watching it together was a bonding experience. Look at the opening of the TV show, The Wonder Years.

Within this clip, you see a family that is very clearly having Family Fun Times. Ok, yeah. It’s a television show. But it’s a television show that I grew up with. I also watched this show explore some pretty harsh issues of the time in a fairly sensitive and smart manner, so I would have to say that opening the show with a 16mm family film was a good call. It showed the historical reality that was going to be presented withing the fiction. Not bad for an 8:00pm ABC show, essentially aimed at a mid-range adolescent audience.

So back to slide shows. My slide shows in the ’80’s served a similar purpose to the 16mm home movies. They really brought us together. Seeing as my family had quite a bit of tragedy happen before I was even in Kindergarten, we needed some o’ that. Plus they were all hippies anyway. It was their thing, man. At any rate, I enjoyed the pretty pictures. And now, with the death of Kodachrome, I am starting to realize (perhaps) where the birth of my love for cinema came from.

When I went to summer camp, I took a photography class. It just made sense. I liked the visual image. I like the pictures. I like making pictures with my eyes. I like certain photographers as artists much better than most painters, sculpters, etc. The first camera I ever used was a Pentax K-1000 up at Camp Swig, in Saratoga, CA. It was awesome. If I remember correctly (and I believe pretty heavily in the Dorothy Parker quote “Women and elephants never forget”) I believe I ended up being the assistant to the camera teacher. Her name was Emily, she had dyed black hair, and she really liked this band I’d never heard of called Pavement and wore khakis. She was really really really cool. I think about her sometimes and wonder whatever happened to her. I have a feeling we’d be friends now. not just because I have a very good sense of who the hell Pavement is, but just because I think we would. I liked her a lot. She was my entrance into The Camera.

Then came High School…and thus the title for this piece. The darkroom at Fairfax High School in 1995 was no joke…to me, anyways. I learned stuff and had a great teacher. And I met one of my better high school friends who I am still in and out of touch with. My first Punk Rawk Pal that was my own age! Imagine THAT!  Yeah, so upon entering that scarlet chamber, I was given several options: engage in a drug deal (generally pot, but I might’ve been able to go harder. Never asked. Wasn’t interested), lounge around and talk about the exciting and engaging world of high school sexuality and politics (Oooo! Sounds thrilling when I have a chance to have 2-3 hours of darkroom time) or use some decent equipment to print pictures with. I chose the latter of the three. Every time. My only issue was negotiating the other idiots who were inside that space with me and the people who actually wanted to work. Regardless, it got done. And I got lovely work out of it.

My next darkroom, at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts? So. Much. Better. I had my work in our shows, it inspired me to go to Venice Beach on busses and get into photography as a True Love For Life. I think at Fairfax it might have been just a crush that I was considering moving in with. But I committed, hook, line and sinker at LACHSA. My only regret? I missed the day that we did pinhole cameras. I think I might’ve been getting my braces off or it was the dentist or something stupid like that. Someday…I want to do a pinhole camera.

The question now, however, is…will I get to? Perhaps some of you have seen the articles floating around people’s Facebook pages about the Death of Kodachrome. And almost all of you have heard the Paul Simon song “Kodachrome.”

Yesterday, after 75 years of glorious color, Kodachrome came to a screeching halt. Dwayne’s Photo, the building in Parsons, Kansas, and the last Kodachrome developing processor in the world, is being sold for scrap. People sent their rolls and reels in from all over the world to get them in by the deadline, spent retirement funds, traveled internationally, just so they could get those “greens of summer.”

I know what you must be thinking. Is it really that good? Can’t they get those colors digitally at this point? They can do anything with computers now! Can’t they reproduce Kodachrome? The easy answer is yes. You can get that color. The problem is you will never get the tone or, more importantly, the feel. Because I have had close relationships with Real Live Film Projectionists for years, I have been lucky enough to experience the warmth of Kodachrome, and it is simply a film look that is like no other (save perhaps Fuji, but that *still* doesn’t have the same thing that Paul Simon sang of- the dude wasn’t stupid!!).

The thing about Kodachrome is that it keeps its color. It was highly regarded for that reason. It started getting beat out by cheaper processes, but there were studies done and according to professionals, archivists, and the scientists-in-between like Wilhelm Imaging Research, Kodachrome “clearly is the most stable transparency film in dark storage; the film is especially outstanding in terms of its total freedom from yellow stain, even after extended aging.”  Unlike other films, even a roll that is undeveloped can keep its color. Look at these two photographs after 20 years lying in the Canadian rainforest, partially buried:

Picture of the best film roll, no white balance

Picture of the best film roll, white balance applied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So if that didn’t hit you, why don’t we try something a little harder. Here is a piece of film work where they seem to be testing out early incarnations of Kodachrome. No, this is not made today. This is actual honest-to-goodness, back-in-the-day, 1922 footage. I swear. If this doesn’t hit you on the glory of Kodachrome, I’m not sure what (if anything) will.

So, when I heard about Dwayne’s closing, and Kodachrome leaving us for good…my heart was broken. The amount of home movies and relationships that were created upon a format whose very emulsion had properties that outlasted the ones of other color film elements? Countless. The history that was made on Kodachrome photography? Beyond measure. National Geographic, for just one example. Familiar with this?

That’s Kodachrome. An iconic image. Documentaries were done about this photograph and the girl in it. Hey, Kodachrome, how ya doing? Naw, you’re not essential to American media culture. Not at all. We’ll just use the quicker, cheaper, ways. ‘S ok. We can fix all that with computers anyway. Digital! It’s the future!

What you can’t fix with computers is the warmth from the screen, the pure vibrancy of the colors of a printed photograph, the laughter amongst an audience, the bond between families making a home movie. These things take on lives of their own. It is no mistake that most artists consider their works to be “parts of themselves’ or their “children.”  In either situation, they are sentient beings or at least possessing blood, musculature and some possibility of animation.

The big joke was that Kodachrome was made by God and Man, as it was created by two musicians named Leopold Godowsky, Jr. and Leopold Mannes. Kodachrome was almost like a combination of the human and the divine. It could do what other color films could not do and for longer, and conduct great miracles (of the Canadian forest variety!). But it also shared a magic on-screen/paper/slide that others have not been able to match. It has touched people in a way that no other film has. Whether it was through a movie camera or the eye of a photojournalist, Kodachrome made an impact on American culture that was clearly almost religious. We have Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah named after it! Last time I checked, I wasn’t going and picnicking at Ilford or Agfa State Park!

And then there’s Paul. Oh, Paul.

So yes. This is a eulogy. But perhaps it is only a temporary one.  I feel that with the onset of the technological age, unless something changes fast, it will be permanent. The funny thing is that in Paul’s song he says “everything looks worse in black and white” and now that is the only way that Kodachrome can be processed, by a company called Film Rescue International. Oh, irony. According to the New York Times, some folks’re still holding on to their rolls of film because they are hoping that Kodak might “see their lack of wisdom” in killing Kodachrome. And to me that is how it should be. We should always hold out a little hope for the future. After all, it is Kodachrome. It is, has been, and always will be, as Todd Gustavson of the Eastman House says, “more than a film, it’s a pop culture icon.”